Saturday, December 5, 2009

the first novel about an impressionist was written in 1886

The writer Émile Zola was good friends with the struggling artists who became the impressionists, but was especially close to Cézanne whom he had known since childhood. However, in 1886 Zola used his intimate knowledge of the art world and studios and fictionalized the life of the sensitive Cézanne and the Bohemian world of the painters in his novel L'oeuvre (The Masterpiece). Some people have suggested that the model for the tormented painter (called Claude!) was really based on Claude Monet, who said he did not recognize himself or any of his colleagues in the book. Others said it was Edouard Manet who served as inspiration. Likely it was a composite portrait of many artists.

The scene in the novel where the artist paints and repaints his canvas until he destroys it entirely is very depressing, but the portrait of the art world of Paris in the 1860s and 1870s is wonderful.

Manet painted this portrait of Zola almost 20 years before the novelist would write L'oeuvre.


  1. Manet was notorious for scraping a day's painting away and starting again, much to the chagrin of his exhausted sitters, so maybe Zola used that idiosyncrasy as part of the composite. It was sad that Zola tempered his enthusiasm for the Impressionists once he truly had fame and influence.

  2. I thought the portrait of Claude in his novel was pretty grim...nothing like any of the painters, really.

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